Global Gambits

Big Steel and the U.S. Quest for Manganese

by Tyler Priest


Examines U.S. interests in strategic minerals as a moving force in economic expansion and in the growth of political influence around the world.

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Cover image for Global Gambits

December 2003


Pages 368
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Business/International

From the 1890s to the 1960s, U.S. steel makers imported more than 70 million tons of high-grade manganese ore, a ferroalloy indispensable to steel production but rare in the United States. Using a commodity approach to highlight the webs of interest and conflict over raw materials that studies of bilateral diplomacy often overlook, Priest reveals the interconnected histories of far-flung mining regions around the globe and the unexamined role of the major U.S. steel companies in the U.S. search for foreign materials. The big manganese mines would emerge first in Brazil, Soviet Georgia, and India, and later in Gabon and South Africa, in a world market that was extremely competitive and inherently unstable.

Market instability, caused in part by consumer control over the manganese trade, stimulated direct U.S. investments in mining beginning in the 1920s. During the 1930s and 1940s, concerns about access to manganese increasingly shaped U.S. mineral and foreign lending policies, which by the Cold War focused on supporting infrastructure development linked to strategic mining districts. Big manganese projects in Brazil and Gabon, undertaken by Bethlehem and U.S. Steel, respectively, dramatically restructured world supply and demonstrated the ways in which U.S. investment and aid imposed an export orientation in producing nations and widened the gulf between industrial and extractive regions of the world.

Table of Contents

IntroductionThe "Starch in the Steel": Manganese Metallurgy and CommerceFar-Flung Sources: The Creation of a World Market, 1880-1914"More Than a Pawn in the Game of War": Global Instabilities, 1905-1919Filling Big Orders: The Diversification of Supply, 1919-1930Internationalism vs. Self-Sufficiency: The Making of U.S. Mineral Policy, 1919-1939Tempting the Brazilians: The Diplomacy of Minerals and Steel, 1930-1945Extending the Quest: The Crisis of the New Order, 1945-1949New Frontiers: Restructuring World Supply, 1948-1965Epilogue and ConclusionBibliographyTablesMaps



In this well-researched study, the historian Tyler Priest gives us for the first time the story of manganese as a strategic global commodity and how its discovery, extraction, transport, and use relate to U.S. foreign relations and international political economy from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth.—The Journal of American History


Dwight Eisenhower observed the United States might be better off if Fort Knox were filled with manganese rather than gold. Tyler Priest's pioneering work reveals why Eisenhower's remark explains crucial features of U.S. diplomacy and economic development during the twentieth-century--and Priest has done this by advancing a beautifully researched argument showing how leading U.S. corporations and Washington officials cooperated to shape American foreign relations towards India, Brazil, Africa, Russia, and other sources of this precious raw material.—Walter LaFeber^LTisch University Professor^LCornell University

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